Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Dramaturgy at the Door: Claire Webster @ Edfringe 2015

Skimstone Arts prsents:

DOORBELLS 

Spotlites, Venue 278, 22 Hanover Street, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Sunday 16 August to Saturday 22 August (13:30 - 50mins)


When the doorbell doesn't ring.... In today's supposedly connected world of social media,

how do people cope when they live alone behind their doorbells?

Skimstone Arts Theatre Company present their latest piece, Doorbells, a physical theatre performance about stories of surviving loneliness through surreal and humorously imaginative worlds.

Doorbells is a poignant and reflective performance where journeys unfold to transport us beyond the everyday. What memories, dreams and wishes do we imagine to carry us through long hours of isolation? The performance features original compositions with double bass, guitar and voice, alongside projections and soundscapes.

The piece has been inspired by collecting true stories through artist residencies, personal experiences, lives of literary and historical characters and analysing academic papers.



The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Claire Webster: The inspiration for Doorbells originally started from collecting stories with older residents in Newcastle upon Tyne during an artist in residence commission by Northumbria University and The Elders Council. The stories contained themes about connecting or not connecting in our neighbourhoods in today's technologically driven 21st Century living. 

We were inspired to dig deeper into the stories about doorbells not ringing and how loneliness could also be an experienced symptom for people living on their own from students to divorcees, to those with mental health/ traumatic lives of any mature age. It led us to analyse key findings and research around the theme of loneliness and interview and collect further stories from ourselves, family members, friends, colleagues, members of the public.  


‘Loneliness is not the same as being alone, and can be felt, even when surrounded by other people.’ - MIND

Where does your piece at the fringe fit with your usual work?
Our Mission Statement for our work is:
Skimstone Arts makes captivating theatre, music and art in collaboration with artists, researchers and people experiencing increased social vulnerability. 

Our growing portfolio of theatre based performances include our currently touring piece Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox, a sensitive, humorous and challenging multimedia and physical theatre performance, also with original music and projection.  It invites us to follow the considerable changes in the lives of Jack and Jill, and their children Lucy and Peter, due to a diagnosis of dementia.

The piece was inspired by 89 anonymous transcripts collected during ‘Risk and Resilience: living with dementia’, a research project by the University of Edinburgh and Northumbria University in Northumberland, which provided rich and emotive material for the fictionalised script.

The production of Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox is a partnership between the ‘Risk and Resilience: living with dementia’ research project team, Professor Charlotte Clarke, University of Edinburgh, Dr Cathy Bailey and Dr Catherine Gibb, Northumbria University, and Skimstone Arts Artistic Director/Performer, Claire Webster Saaremets.  

The piece was inspired by 89 anonymous transcripts collected during the Northumberland based research, which provided rich and emotive material for the fictionalised script.  Additional research was carried out by Skimstone Arts, collecting stories from friends, family and the public about the challenges, special moments and changes in relationships, when living with family members diagnosed with dementia. 

“Skimstone Arts worked with our research interview transcripts and produced such a powerful piece of drama. I confess that I moved from being a little sceptical to a total fan once I saw the performance! This is a great way to communicate complex research findings to a mixed audience yet I can see in it all of the theoretical ideas from the research.” - PROFESSOR CHARLOTTE CLARKE, UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH 

“The performance was outstanding”... Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria

“Powerful...authentic...humorous...emotional.  It was fantastic, thank you.”  - AUDIENCE MEMBER 

Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox premiered at Queens Hall, Hexham in 2013, followed by a run at Edinburgh Festival and performances in partnership with North East and Scottish Local Authorities, Health Boards, and public health teams leading to key national theatre venues.

“Through their work…Skimstone Arts has helped us raise the profile of the critical work to be done to work with people living with dementia to improve quality of life.” 
DR CATHY BAILEY, NORTHUMBRIA UNIVERSITY

Investment from Arts Council England has enabled Claire Webster Saaremets to embark on further research and artistic development of the performance during 2014-15, with the revised production premiering at Theatre by the Lake in March 2015.  The research covered four key areas:
- Spending time with people who are living with dementia, discussing ways of connecting and understanding their dementia, and issues with family members around their status and identity;
- Reading material about positive ways of living dementia on Alzheimer and other related websites;
- Meeting with a community nurse/research practitioner to understand the role of a community nurse within family scenarios.
-Conversations with Dr Michael Firbank at Centre for Ageing, Newcastle University, looking at changes in brain activity and fluid patterns, providing greater understanding of the medical perspective and its connection, or disconnection, with the reality of dementia in people’s lives;
- Watching footage of people living with dementia, particularly Lewy Body dementia, in care home and domestic settings, observing specific details in movement and changes in relationships.
Additional research was carried out by Skimstone Arts, collecting stories from friends, family and the public about the challenges, special moments and changes in relationships, when living with family members diagnosed with dementia.  Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox is a partnership between University of Edinburgh, Northumbria University and Skimstone Arts, also supported by Arts Council England.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Doorbells seeks to provoke audiences in to asking themselves where they may relate to the universal themes e.g. of love, loss, family relationships and isolation portrayed through the characters and the multi media elements of the performances.  

How does the eerie projection of a single hanging shirt across the waltzing woman make you respond? How do you feel about a Palm plant Emperor speaking to his adopted daughter within the  bizarre and magical Tea Ceremony, or a woman climbing up her suitcase to the Himalayas? Where can a live double bass and guitar improvisation move you when a character reveals her dark secrets? Does the imaginative surreality of the characters make you laugh, smile, or move you to tears? We ask the audience to travel with us in their own imagination to possibly connect with their own or others deeper, mad or funny inner stories of living or feeling alone.

The Dramaturgy Questions
What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work -  have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
We have always held a respect for Stanislavski, Bretcht, Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed, yet our greatest passion lies with experimental theatre of the late 20th and early 21st century. 

We explore the breaking of conventions alongside the influences from a  wide variety of sources, including Robert Lepage, Alan Platell, Forced Entertainment, Kneehigh, Frantic Assembly, leading to social realism on screen e.g. Mike Leigh and surrealist David Lynch, musical references include; John Cage, Gavin Bryers, Steve Reich, Mozart, Scandinavian jazz scene, free jazz improvisers such as Cooper Moore, John Edwards and film/soundscape artists including Bill Frizzell, Arve Hendrickson, Keith Rowe, visual and conceptual influences which also question political ideas and borders yet retain a strong aesthetic and prominence can be traced to Yoko Ono, Ai Wei wei, Cornelia Parker, Richard Long, Pussy Riot, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir...

This by no means definitive list encourages and supports our multidisciplinary approach to making work. We have sought training, Masterclasses and workshops with some of the great and good mentioned above.

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Skimstone Arts' dramaturgy underpinning Doorbells is based upon the strong, emerging themes of living into today's supposedly technologically connected society, yet there are higher levels of loneliness and depression/ mental illness detected in doctors surgeries and NHS than ever before. 

This is where our key areas of research and collecting true stories influence our selection of characters, relationships and plot. It's important to say that we do not make 'issue based work' but rather translate or re interpret the similar threads related to the theme of loneliness e.g. being in a destructive relationship, bullying causing isolation (in adults as much as with children), and moving to a new area due to financial issues. We seek to place the often interweaving narratives of characters within a realistic context, yet with magical realism elements of sound, projection, physical theatre which can transpose the theme into a more metaphysical level for audiences to  respond to. 

Structure, rhythm, pace, gaze, intent, monologue, dialogue become carefully juxtaposed to create worlds that are often  surreal yet can transport us to snippets of whatever the 'real world' may be.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
Our process (This is an extract from our Skimstone Arts Theatre Company Handbook – it is still a work in progress)
Steps for method:
1. Initial inspiration - a passion or challenge for the a sharing of a story.
2. Funding identified and achieved and audience considered  e.g. commissioned by an organisation or prompted by decision to make a piece of work – performance / exhibition
3. Actors/musicians/artists identified for collaboration 

What do we look for in the collaboration ?
Ability to be; 
playful around with ideas, improvisations, cross collaboration of artforms e.g. responding to the live drone of a double bass, watching footage of a shirt blowing on a washing line....  before they are set into various stages of script
pushing personal creativity and skills 
ruthless and gentle about what you  offer
open to offers, others and negotiate pathways
able to let ideas go, not be too precious
willing to work with other art form artists 
4. Key theme(s)agreed e.g. love and loss, risk and resilience, isolation and harmony, propaganda, loneliness
5. Stories to collect/research e.g. using games and artistic interventions with identified groups and artists to find and explore the stories related to the themes/ project. See below for more detail...
6. Investing time to play with, analyse, question and represent / 
re -imagine the stories into a performance.. using the Stages of Development (see ).
6. Reflective Practice i.e. investing in time to analyse events and feelings towards making work and how this influences the next stage of defining , rehearsing, performing.
Stage 1 
5. story collecting using artistic interventions and happenings.

A chance meeting, a happening on the bus, a memory of a loved one, a thought that seeps into your dreams, an idea that came from making tea…all form a possible story, a story that needs telling, a story that can sing, weep, shout, whisper from many places. Real and imaginary stories collected from people, young, older, alone, in communities, in streets, on metros, at home, from across the world, in collaborative projects, residencies, workshops, studio sessions.
We begin any project by thinking;

What is the story’s soul ? It’s initial step? A mermaid leaving her own sea (story told by a resident in a care home....Fish & The Yesterday Song 2011) A kitchen table, a place of safety (The Refuge 2012)  A tiny transcript translated years after the writers death ( More On This Later - Festival of Robert Walser 2012).
We create artistic interventions to collect the stories…. ‘Thought Collectors’ arrive on a Metro and sing a couple of songs in exchange for a ‘thoughts about an old station ’ (Timemouth Station 2012) A traveling tearoom arrives in market places and ‘Rose asks customers for a story in exchange for a cup of tea’ (Tea Side, A Travelling Tearoom 2009). 

We research and search for real stories e.g. anonymous transcripts shared by Northumbria and Edinburgh University about early onset dementia’s impact on families and communities (Jack and Jill &The Red Postbox 2013/14)   

Story collecting with young people some of which face multiple life challenges ( e.g. Skimstone Arts’ Young Artist Collective) stimulates tales of hopes, fears and moments of unforgettable change, woven into lyrics, songs and sound compositions which form an album (LOUDER than words 2014) and instigate a multimedia New Manifesto for Young People’s Rights,  exploring an old building brings narratives about broken relationships (Precious Rubbish 2010).

We create mood boards with scribbles, poems, lyrics, texts, books and reference films, characters, torn images from newspapers alongside the shared stories. 

Stage 2 Moving from autobiographical to universal
1. Chaos, play, testing  
Using warm ups, physical theatre, music/sound exploration and images we explore themes, take interesting bits of a story and fictionalise them e.g. Brian’s story of moving house and meeting the challenges of a new home (Doorbells of Delight;s commissioned artists in residence project  2014) becomes a new character’s journey of despair.
We consider characters i.e. the protagonist, their role and purpose to the stories e.g. are they an object for affection (Jill i Jack and Jill & the Red Postbox 2013 - 14) , an enemy, or more a purveyor of hope etc
Use improvisation and guided play writing to communicate ideas and feelings and dig deeper into the emotional and psychological layers of every character.
We play with objects and space to see how ideas for a more conceptual interpretation present themselves e.g. seaweed, plastic bags, a bed sheet.
We use games to understand reactions, intent, plots and subplots. 
2. Sifting, refining
Character definition. We consolidate each character i.e. consider their past. What made them what they are today? Is there some deep dark secret that the character feels like he has to hide? Was the character born into extraordinary circumstances or did she have a normal childhood? We hot seat each other and add in their experiences to help develop the story. We consider how a character may react in a certain way to a given situation so what must have happened in their past to for them to demonstrate that reaction?
We improvise with language, voice, gesture, movement and observation to extend the characters personality and place 
We look for the objectives within scenes, narrative arcs, the tension or conflict points, consider pace, rhythm, relationships e.g. to the context, between characters, within the song/image/story. We finalise the main plot/concept/stories from climax to resolution.
Physical theatre
We play with movement, imagery, physical theatre to tell the story e.g. portray emotion, plot, relationships e.g. body movement, using props and sound/music/projection/lighting without text or script.
Storyboard and script.
We generate a storyboard that structures scenes, soundtracks and/ or songs, images and/or films and bits of text alongside research papers, video interviews and photographs. 
Set Design
We work with a designer to plan, design and realise set ready for rehearsals.We structure the text into a script ready to test out in the rehearsal period.We finalise a set that enables the stories to take place.
3. Rehearsing
We interpret draft script  to shape the characters, scenes, set.
We consider how the impact of vocal, physical, imaginative, expressive, intellectual, intuitive of improvisation, observation and emulation, mime, and movement.
We learn dialogue and solidify aspects of  stage movement, relationships with and beyond the stage, blocking and make small changes to the script, structure, characters, set etc.
4. Technical rehearsal and performances
We schedule rehearsals with a contracted technician to work with us with sound/projection/lighting etc. In addition we also work with venue technicians for lighting/ sound cues.  
We then present the rehearsed story experience before a live audience in a specific place e.g. theatre and/ or arts venue or site specific place.
The number of performances and audience identification and development will have been defined during the stages of development. We always aim to offer a Q&A post performance discussion.
The Role of Artistic Director
At Skimstone Arts the Artistic Director has a definitive signature on the work i.e identifiable artistic voice of telling a story. The Method and themes  appreciate the journeys, stories and lives that people are experiencing and an interest in issues and personal stories which are at the heart of the project yet de-personalised in order to make challenging, humorous yet emotionally poking theatre.

The Artist Director’s method consists of holding the space, vision, and stages of development  and ensuring a collaborative approach to the devising and refining, whilst retaining the overall aesthetic. The Artistic Director keeps the focus / through thread, main intention whilst insisting on rigour, attention to detail and always seeks the professional dialogue with appointed external eyes.
What do you feel the role of the critic is? 
Skimstone Arts views the role of Critic in two ways;
1• The importance of External/Critical eye
We always appoint an External Eye to view open rehearsals and initial public performances, especially when the Artistic Director is also a performer. The External Eye’s role is to be a critical reviewer of the ideas and work in progress  at the end of the Sifting and Refining Stage,  returning to discuss  strengths and weaknesses within development of characters, gaze and intent in scenes, multimedia elements, dramaturgy etc during into Rehearsal Stage. Depending on  the context the External Eye will give feedback to the Artistic Director  and cast or meet with the Artistic Director for more in depth conversation and notes, a process which can also move into early public performances.

The role of critic we see as one who approaches a play, piece of theatre devoid of any predisposed or prescriptive views, set of rules or politics, to view it as a piece within its own merits, boundaries and offer. 

We expect a strong, informed, contemporary – alongside - classical cultural interest in referencing what is experienced in different art forms, in conjunction with the chosen genre they have chosen to specialise in. However, there is always the question of subjective and objective connection, understanding of the relationship to academic and theatre making constraints and processes, and what is explored and written  as helpful truth from the exposed voice of the critic in the public domain.







Skimstone Arts - Passionate about creative collaboration – Skimstone Arts makes captivating theatre, music and art in collaboration with artists, researchers and people experiencing increased social vulnerability. Skimstone Arts consists of: Ensemble – professional actors, audio and visual artists, photographers, live performers, film-makers and composers. Young Artist Collective – An ever- growing and dynamic group, often facing live challenges, committed to exploring artistic practice in film, music, performance and photography.




The Company

Skimstone Arts bring together musicians, performers, film makers and photographers from UK, Europe and Asia to produce touring theatre, site-specific performances and exhibitions. Established in 2006 the company is based at Skimstone Studios, Newcastle Arts Centre. Original works, commissioned and grant funded to date include Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox(Edinburgh Fringe Festival/National Touring), A Natural Anthem (Gallery, Newcastle Arts Centre, Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne) Time For Tea (National Open Heritage Days) Tea side, A Travelling Tearoom (BBC and Arts Council England).

We also support the arts practice of young/ older people facing challenging life circumstances, within and beyond Skimstone studio.




Claire Webster Saaremets – Skimstone Founder and Artistic Director


Doorbells Cast
Claire Webster Saaremets, Artistic Director/performer

Professional practice reflecting 15 years work of over 50 collaborative artistic projects/commissions with more than 5000 people of all ages, regionally to internationally, by a diverse funder/stakeholder/commissioner portfolio. Her theatre/performance work is based on the exploration of contemporary and universal themes of everyday life e.g. love, loss, dreams. desires, relationships and place, based on collected stories from the public e.g. on public transport, care homes, social spaces etc, using juxtaposed artforms which she performs back in the same spaces or theatre/arts venues.

She established Skimstone Arts, based at Newcastle Arts Centre, with Arts Council Development Grant, in 2007 and has made and performed high quality theatre and site specific performances with and for children and young people and older people at venues such as Queens Hall Theatre, Hexham. Stage 2 Theatre Northumbria University, St Augustines, Edinburgh, Northern Stage, Newcastle, Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria, Middlesbrough Town Hall, The National Glass Centre, Sunderland. She took Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox, a performance about early on set dementia to Edinburgh Festival in 2013 which has since toured other national theatre venues.

Claire has trained with London International School of Performing Arts with Director Thomas Prattki, Ridiculusmus Theatre Company, Talking Shop with Northern Stage, Robert
Lepage (as observer) International Performance Studies Institute including Festival of Voice, Cardiff Tomasz Rodowicz, Director of Gardzienice Theatre Company, Poland, Frantic Assembly, Spymonkey. She is a member of Talking Shop with Northern Stage.



John Pope, musician/performer is a young and very active musician and composer, currently undertaking a PhD in composition and improvisation. John has collaborated with well known artists across many platforms and been involved in theatrical presentations in national theatres including playing at Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne and at The Sage Gateshead.

John recently played bass with Paul Smith from Maximo Park featured at UK BBC Radio 6 (as album of the week) and recently trained with Frantic Assembly and Spymonkey at Hull Truck Theatre.

John also has long experience in education, both as an academic and as a tutor and community music practitioner at The Sage Gateshead.





Peter Saaremets is an experienced musician and performer who has worked with Skimstone Arts for the last 9 years ago. Before joining Skimstone Arts he was experienced as a performing musician for 16 years specialising in Jazz and performing at Jazz venues across the North East. With Skimstone Arts he has devised, improvised and performed in Cold Coffee(Edinburgh Festival), Tea-side – a Travelling Tearoom (North East of England) ,Time for Tea (Part of Open Heritage Days in Newcastle) , Angel Train , Dust and Sojourn (Washington Arts Centre).

He continues to be Lead Artist and supports young people facing life challenges to write, compose and perform their own songs in major public settings. He recently trained with Frantic Assembly and Spymonkey at Hull Truck Theatre.




Doorbells – Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 – venue 278


‘A skilful ‘song cycle’ accessible to a range of audiences... containing comedy, pathos and deft interplay between music, physical image and text.’ Dr Matt Hargrave, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts, Northumbria University

‘Love the bells...Good mix of theatre and music, loved it...Raised some important issues of loneliness.’ - Scratch Night at Northern Stage, Newcastle 2014 and The Civic, Barnsley 2015.



Key facts about Loneliness*

23% of people aged 75+ who live alone do not see or speak with someone every day.

Three quarters of family doctors in the UK report that between one and five patients a day attend their surgery primarily because they are lonely.

In the UK in urban areas 95% of people live within 13 minutes of a regular (hourly) bus, but in rural areas this falls to 61%.

The proportion of younger people (18 – 64) that answered that they did not have enough social contact, or they felt isolated was higher (25%) than the proportion of the older age group (65+)(19%) in the B&NES 2014 Adult Social Care Survey.

Over a third of older people (37% or about over 4 million) consider the television as their main form of company.

*Bath and North East Somerset Council

‘Loneliness is not the same as being alone, and can be felt, even when surrounded by other people.’ - MIND 

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